|By TIM DAHLBERG
October 21, 2006
I had to watch. Didn't really want to, but I had to.
Probably because I've been watching in fascination ever since I saw an 18-year-old crying behind Caesars Palace after he lost a chance to make the 1984 Olympic team.
I've seen Mike Tyson at his absolute best, and his absolute worst. I was there when he destroyed Michael Spinks in 91 seconds, and there when he almost destroyed his career when he gnawed off a piece of Evander Holyfield's ear.
I've seen him in countless gyms, even interviewed him once in a bathroom. I've been to his house, and was sitting ringside when he became the youngest heavyweight champion. I was also there when a big Irish stiff named Kevin McBride knocked him silly in his last real fight.
I'm done watching now. No more.
It's become too painful to see. No, make that too uninteresting to see.
The sight of a bloated Tyson in an exhibition match Friday night finally did it for me. Or maybe it was the sight of Tyson shaking hands with the people who came and chatting amiably with them afterward.
The old Tyson would have had those people for lunch. OK, maybe dinner, after an appetizer of Lennox Lewis' children.
Iron Mike is now Smiling Mike. Making a living the only way he now knows how -- separating rubes from their money by selling them a charade.
About 4,000 of them turned out in Youngstown, Ohio, to watch Tyson and a heavy bag cleverly disguised as Corey Sanders go at each other for four shortened rounds in what charitably was described as the main event of the evening.
Actually, they didn't go after each other. Sanders knew his role well and simply stood in front of Tyson so the former baddest man on the planet would have the opportunity to hit him on his padded head with padded gloves. Sanders would occasionally paw lightly at Tyson to make it look like he was doing something, but he was being paid to take punches, not throw them.
That didn't sit well with the crowd, some of whom were smart enough to see what was going on early and began booing in the first round. Unfortunately, they weren't smart enough not to buy tickets in the first place.
What were they expecting? Tyson-Holyfield III?
To his credit, Tyson never promised anything else. He said it wouldn't be for real, and that he didn't understand why anyone would pay to see it.
I didn't either, though I paid $29.95 to watch on TV. It's part of my job, though, and it sure beat having to spend part of a weekend in Youngstown.
Besides, my boss was picking up the tab.
I figure Tyson should end up with about 10 bucks of her money. Enough to tip one of the regulars at his local strip club, or buy a drink in a Vegas nightclub.
There was some vague talk of some of the money going to charity, but we all know that charity begins at home. And Tyson still owes people $10 million or $10 zillion, or something like that.
Maybe the charity will come later. Tyson's new promoter, Sterling McPherson, said Tyson will go on a world tour that will include exhibitions in China, Australia, Dubai and Kuwait.
"We're going to go see people starving to death all over the world and give something back to them," McPherson said.
Like what? Some food? At least when Tyson was in his first comeback and Don King was conning people into believing he could still fight, he and King would hand out frozen turkeys in poor neighborhoods at Thanksgiving.
Unlike Tyson's fight against Peter McNeeley or his last fight against McBride, this wasn't a con, no matter what the good people of Youngstown might like to believe. Real fighters don't fight in T-shirts promoting a congressional candidate and gloves filled with so much padding that pillow fights carry more danger.
Tyson didn't spar one round to prepare, and if he trained it didn't show as he was gasping for air throughout the, er, fight. He's not a fighter anymore, just an oddity who would fit in well with the bearded lady and the midget when the circus comes through Youngstown.
"It's entertainment," Tyson said. "They came because they wanted to be entertained, and that's what I wanted to do."
Twenty years ago, Tyson destroyed Trevor Berbick to become the youngest heavyweight champion. Ten years ago, he still seemed so devastating that people feared for Holyfield's life when he first fought him.
Today, he hits a human punching bag because there are still some people who believe, still some people who think he is the fearsome Tyson of old.
The same people might still be watching 20 years from now when he spars in a walker against his roommate in the nursing home.
I won't be among them.
I've watched Mike Tyson for way too long.